For spring break, some college students set out for sun-drenched beaches or cheap European cities. Skyler Bartels headed for the local Wal-Mart.
Bartels, 20, an aspiring writer and Drake University sophomore, thought he’d spend a week in a Wal-Mart as a test of endurance, using it as the premise for a magazine article. His college adviser liked the idea.
“I just intuitively thought, ‘This is brilliant!”’ said Carol Spaulding-Kruse, an associate professor of English. “I wasn’t quite sure why, but it just sounded like a really good idea.”
For 41 hours, Bartels wandered the aisles of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in Windsor Heights that’s open 24 hours a day. He checked out shoppers, read magazines, watched movies on the DVD display and played video games.
He bought meals at the in-store Subway sandwich shop, but was able to catch only brief naps in a restroom stall or on lawn chairs in the garden department.
Other shoppers and employees didn’t pay much attention until the end of his stay, he said, when it appeared some store greeters began to take notice — pointing at him and whispering.
A shift manager approached him and asked him if he was finding everything he needed.
“He said, ‘Didn’t I see you over by the magazines, like, five hours ago?’ I told him, ‘Maybe,”’ Bartels said.
Tiring to the point of hallucinating, Bartels said he decided to go home before he was thrown out.
He considered the project a failure.
Then, The Des Moines Register, which had been contacted by Spaulding-Kruse, called to ask him about the experience. Once the story ran, TV networks began calling.
He also talked with a book agent, has been contacted by New Line Cinema about a movie concept and did a radio interview with National Public Radio.
Bartels told The Associated Press he has decided the stunt wasn’t such a failure after all.
“I’m incredibly happy with the press coverage,” he said. “It would be kind of silly not to accept it with open arms.”
Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Thornton said Bartels neither violated store policy nor broke the law.
“We were unaware of his presence and if we were aware of it we certainly wouldn’t have condoned it,” Thornton said. “We’re a retailer, not a hotel.”